Cotton: Greenland Purchase Would 'Secure Vital Strategic Interests'

Greenland has 'resources critical to our high-tech and defense industries'

Sen. Tom Cotton and President Donald Trump/ Getty Images
August 26, 2019

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) on Monday expressed his support for the acquisition of Greenland, saying it would "secure vital strategic interests for the United States" and "economically benefit both us and Greenlanders."

Cotton defended President Donald Trump from liberal attacks in an op-ed for the New York Times. Cotton, an Army veteran, pointed out that Greenland's position in the Arctic Circle has attracted American policymakers as far back as 1867. Secretary of State William Seward previously thought about acquiring Greenland before he negotiated the acquisition of Alaska from Russia.

In 1946, the Truman administration offered $100 million to Denmark to acquire Greenland, arguing that the island was "indispensable to the safety of the United States" in confronting the growing Soviet threat, just as it had been in World War II when American forces used bases in Greenland to deter Nazi aggression. While the deal didn't go through, we kept troops on the island throughout the Cold War. Today, the Air Force's 21st Space Wing is stationed at Thule Air Base in western Greenland to support our ballistic-missile defenses and space missions.

America is not the only nation to recognize Greenland’s strategic significance. Intent on securing a foothold in the Arctic and North America, China attempted in 2016 to purchase an old American naval base in Greenland, a move the Danish government prevented. Two years later, China was back at it, attempting to build three airports on the island, which failed only after intense lobbying of the Danes by the Trump administration.

Beijing understands not only Greenland’s geographic importance but also its economic potential. Greenland is rich in a wide array of mineral deposits, including rare-earth minerals — resources critical to our high-tech and defense industries. China currently dominates the market in these minerals and has threatened to withhold them from us to gain leverage in trade negotiations. Greenland also possesses untold reserves of oil and natural gas.

Cotton defended the potential purchase of Greenland by saying the United States, which has the world's largest economy, could support Greenland's communities while investing in their future. He said transferring Greenland's sovereignty would help with the financial burden on the Danish people and help expand opportunities for people in Greenland. He went on to say the purchase of Greenland is a "perfectly legitimate tool of statecraft" and that more than a third of American territory was acquired from four countries.

"Our nation has much to gain, as do the Danes and Greenlanders. While there are short-term obstacles, the same benefits could apply for Greenland today — and the manifest logic of this idea means that its consideration is here to stay," Cotton wrote.

Trump has floated the idea of buying Greenland several times, but his advisers have had mixed reactions to the proposal, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While it is unclear how far the president will push the idea, U.S. officials view Greenland as important to American national-security interests. A decades-old defense treaty between Denmark and the U.S. gives the U.S. military virtually unlimited rights in Greenland at America's northernmost base, Thule Air Base. Located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, it includes a radar station that is part of a U.S. ballistic missile early warning system. The base is also used by the U.S. Air Force Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The U.S. has sought to derail Chinese efforts to gain an economic foothold in Greenland. The Pentagon worked successfully in 2018 to block China from financing three airports on the island.

People outside the White House have described purchasing Greenland as an Alaska-type acquisition for Mr. Trump's legacy, advisers said. The few current and former White House officials who had even heard of the notion described it with a mix of anticipation and apprehension, since it remains unclear how far the president will push the idea.